WARREN – A passion for hockey runs through the Staskowski family.
Craig Staskowski grew up in Sterling Heights playing the sport. For the past five seasons he’s been the successful varsity hockey coach for Rochester Unified, and his eldest son is named after Cam Neely, the former Boston Bruins star forward.
Staskowski, 42, is the vice president of the Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association, and next season he’ll begin his two-year term as president.
But juggling responsibilities at work and home often leaves little room for outside interests such as coaching. The increasing demands of coaching, notably a growing time commitment, are taking their toll on many coaches in all sports.
Staskowski knows this all too well. He knew, eventually, his stay in Rochester was to be short-lived. His place of business and his home are in Macomb County, and traffic is most often a nightmare going west into Oakland County during peak travel time.
“It’s such a commitment to coach,” he said. “The drive after work was 30 or 35 minutes depending on traffic. I was able to make it work, but how long can you do that? I have two boys, and both will play hockey.”
This past spring Staskowski saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The varsity coaching position at Warren DeLaSalle opened, and Staskowski was hired in May. As difficult as it was to leave Rochester, here was a chance to remain in coaching for years to come.
All in all, Staskowski and his wife, Lindsay, couldn’t be more pleased with the move. His place of business is a mile and a half away from DeLaSalle, and the drive to Mount Clemens Ice Arena where the Pilots practice is a 10-minute drive from his home.
The Staskowskis have two sons and the eldest, Cam, is 8 years old and in his second year playing travel hockey in nearby St. Clair Shores.
“I absolutely have more time to spend with my family,” Staskowski said. “It’s way more convenient. It’s a long-term commitment for me.”
Convenience wasn’t the only factor. Staskowski is a competitive person, and he’s intent on building the program at DeLaSalle to where it can compete on the same level as other members of the Detroit Catholic League like Birmingham Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and U-D Jesuit.
Staskowski’s teams at Rochester won four Oakland Activities Association Red titles and twice reached Division 1 Regional Finals.
“Athletics is a big part of the equation at DeLaSalle,” he said. “They’ve have success in other sports. I would like our hockey program to be as good, or better, than those at C.C. and Rice. We want to win a regional and state championship. And so far we’re doing pretty well. We haven’t lost a game in regulation. And we beat U-D for the first time since 2011. And we beat them twice.”
The rivalries within the league are fierce. A team’s success is a measuring stick for how well it can compete at the state level. Staskowski graduated from Sterling Heights High, located a few miles north of DeLaSalle, and one of his best friends in high school was Don DeDonatis, who had two RBI in DeLaSalle’s 14-2 victory over Grand Ledge in the 1993 Class A Baseball Final.
“I always had great respect for the Pilots,” Staskowski said. “One of my assistant coaches, Tom Taylor, is a DeLaSalle alum. Our sons are best friends and play on the same travel team.
“I don’t know what it is about DeLaSalle. It’s something different whether it’s an all-boys school or what. The kids are polite. They’re really good kids. I know the football coach (Mike Giannone). He works at the school, and I’m sure we’ll get to know each other better.”
Giannone just completed his first season at DeLaSalle after he too left a successful local program at Macomb Dakota.
Greg Esler is the longtime basketball coach at DeLaSalle. Esler also cut his teeth coaching at another school (he left St. Clair Shores Lake Shore after the 1993-94 season) before coming to DeLaSalle. Even though Esler said times have changed, one factor remains constant.
“Kids want to be disciplined,” he said. “Whether it’s in a public school or private. There’s so much more going on now with the students with cell phones and social media. The communication is different.
“Giannone and I have a great relationship and we believe we should share kids. There’s so much specialization going on now. (Giannone) has been to our practices, and the kids know we have a good relationship. I’ve met (Staskowski) a few times. All of us want to win. If you have a good program and demand respect, you’ll be successful.”
DeLaSalle was 7-2-1 heading into its holiday break. A Dec. 9-10 trip to Marquette resulted in a loss and a tie, both in overtime.
The Pilots are led by senior left wing Thomas Hernandez, who had 30 points heading into the break. Senior Greg Pine is the center on the top line, and the two are not only best friends, but live next door to one another.
Splitting the duties in goal are junior Brandon Compton and sophomore Andrew Grewette, both of whom were on the junior varsity last season. The top defenseman is junior Jordan Kovacs.
“Pine and Hernandez compliment each other so well,” Staskowski said. “Jordan has been outstanding. You can put him out there against any line.
“I don’t even like to mention individuals because we have a great deal of depth. Yeah, we have that good line, but you have to have depth. Depth is a big part of being good.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTO: Craig Staskowski (middle, standing) directs his new Warren DeLaSalle hockey team during a game this season. (Photo courtesy of the Warren DeLaSalle hockey program.)
If the Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice hockey team ends up winning the Division 2 championship in March, it could be said that the journey to that title started in August with an offer he wasn't ready to accept.
That’s when senior Peter Rosa — who was coming off an all-state season last year as a junior — went to Louisiana to train for a few days with the Shreveport Mudbugs, a team in the North American Hockey League.
Rosa said at that point he was already wanting to come back to Brother Rice for his senior season, but given how he impressed the Mudbugs coaching staff during that camp, it didn’t stop Shreveport coaches from trying to change Rosa’s mind after they informed him he had a roster spot if he wanted it.
“They wanted me there,” Rosa said. “They said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come develop here?’"
But Rosa stuck with his original intentions, saying thanks, but no thanks, so he could play one final year of high school hockey.
As a result, Rosa is already going down in the history books as one of the best to ever play for a storied Brother Rice program.
Following Tuesday’s win against Warren De La Salle Collegiate, Rosa has 22 goals and 25 assists in 17 games for the Warriors this winter.
He is No. 2 on the school’s all-time points list with 116, although he likely won’t be able to catch leader Mackenzie MacEachern, who had 154 points during his time at Brother Rice.
However, odds are good that Rosa will be able to overtake MacEachern’s record of 65 goals scored in a career, since Rosa currently is at 59.
Rosa is a versatile 5-foot-10, 175-pound offensive stalwart who can play center and both wing positions.
When Brother Rice lost to Trenton in a Division 2 Semifinal last year, Brother Rice head coach Kenny Chaput said odds were good at the time that it would be the last time he would coach Rosa.
“I was fully planning on that being his final game with us,” he said.
Rosa went to Shreveport following the season to practice and meet the team in what was his first encounter with the Mudbugs before going back in August.
But throughout the summer, Chaput, through conversations with Peter’s dad and Brother Rice assistant coach Todd Rosa, had an inkling that Peter preferred to play at Brother Rice for his senior year.
Once the official word came from Peter at the beginning of the school year that he was coming back, there was a challenge for Chaput.
Given Rosa was good enough to play at junior level, it was tempting for coaches to feel they didn’t have anything left to teach Rosa in high school.
“I had to make sure I went above to push him so he doesn’t get stale with things,” Chaput said. “It’s still a challenge because he gets things done that a lot of other kids don’t. But there’s tweaks in his game that he still needs to do, so we’ll continue to push him the best we can. Obviously, we didn’t want him to have a year where he didn’t get pushed and he didn’t progress.”
With Rosa in the fold, Brother Rice is an obvious contender to win its second Division 2 title in three years.
“I don’t think there’s anything like playing for your school and for your classmates,” said Rosa, who said he’s not sure yet if he’ll play in Shreveport or for another junior team after he finishes high school. “Having the benefit of hanging out with kids in school all day, and then coming to practice with them and playing with them, I’ve built relationships with many kids on the team that I wouldn’t trade anything for. I’ve had a great experience.”
Even worse for opponents is that after the loss to Trenton in that Semifinal, Rosa is motivated for redemption.
“That’ll leave a pretty bad taste in your mouth,” Rosa said. “I just felt like I had some unfinished business.”
If that business ends up being finished, opponents will sure wish those Shreveport coaches could’ve changed Rosa’s mind in August.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice's Peter Rosa gains steam on a rush during last season's Division 2 Semifinal against Trenton at USA Hockey Arena. (Middle) Rosa raises his stick in celebration after scoring Rice's first goal in the eventual 4-2 loss.